‘You are going to be the MC!’
We had had a full meeting in the day and now…
That was Samson’s good night call on Friday. Say what? Why hadn’t I seen this coming? It had been some time since I had worn that garb and coming out of some small forced retreat, I wondered what the event would entail. Well, first thing to do was clear wardrobe issues. I had ordered some fresh wear for this author and when I had them delivered, I couldn’t help smiling at the choice of black or ash trousers, to accompany my black shirt. I decided to do a suit too so that meant simply that the corresponding black pants won the show. I searched around for my anger – the Tiv black and white muffler you would find me with every time. It occurred to me it had been a parting present a week earlier. I hit my head in the ‘Oh no!’ fashion of remembrance.
Well, I got into a bus with my main bro, Gabriel, by some 10:00. I had it in mind to go spend the night in town somewhere special so I packed a bag. There was the indecision of where to put this or that, what to leave or take… That was some exercise. In the end, though, like I said by some 10:00am we were moving to town for an event that was meant to start by 11:00. Of all days, Abuja decided to have its traffic jam in full – groan! With each stop, each trudge and each slowing turn, I groaned once more wondering aloud like in many movies: ‘Are we there yet?’ Choi! Samson had told me the event would start on the dot and I was shaking… Then our bus hit a small car and I silently began to question the evils of my forefathers who were bent on making me lose face and perhaps, friendship. Meanwhile, my phone had gone off of its own volition, I guess, 😉 … Samson kept calling Gabriel… Eventually, though, we arrived Area 3 and met Samson himself who came to usher us in. Can you beat that? Being ushered in by the celebrant himself! You don’t get that everyday. Well, he looked a bit concerned and relieved almost as if he had thought we weren’t going to come again. There was no anger which made me note one thing: the event was far from starting. I went to the hall and discovered a trickle of people. I went to pay my compliments to Dike Chukwumerije, poetic performing wonder and Chinelo Chikelu, Abuja Literary Society secretary. Mr. Eriata Oribhabor, Chairman of the Abuja Association of Nigerian Authors soon came in. There was Mr. Kaniko Uduagbon representing Denja Abdullahi, the Vice President of the Association of Nigerian Authors, and standing in for the Chairman of the occasion, Femi Fani-Kayode whose break lights we didn’t see, somehow…
There were a few more things to set right which we did. After that, we set the event in top gear.
2 MAIN EVENT…
12:30 and lots of spaces empty, guests still trickling in. Barrister Ahmed Maiwada came in, looking his usual self with his grey suit, dark shirt and the dark glasses… I got the mic and called everyone forward. I forced a shy Ms. Chikelu to say the opening prayer. She started with the first sign of the cross but somehow forgot to close her prayer with same… National anthem and then, the dignitaries were called to the high table. Mr. Kaniko gave a brief speech which helped us move fast… Prof. Gbenga Ibileye of the Federal University, Lokoja gave a beautiful review of the book. The review went round the power of poets and poetry in changing society and creating a beauty through their words and acts. Naturally, Kofi Awoonor got into the conversation. Ibileye confessed that he hadn’t opened the parcel with the book till after some calls by the author. He expected some rubbish or roadside thing, the don continued, but was shocked to find out the top quality that the Origami published book had… Reading through was the second shocker. What can words do? Much and far more. When put right, when crafted in such a way as to delight and raise the weary, when structured and garbed in rhythm to sing easy notes understood by even the simple, words can do a lot and far more. ‘The collection might have been written by a small man in stature but it is Samsonic in might… This is aesthetically profound.’
The review went on and on, almost as if the good Prof was trying to write his own book J … it was fun though. It brought to mind the difference between prose and poetry. In trying to explain some little poetry, so much prose flew. Well, we came to the end of that and the Prof sat to some applause which I had to re-echo.
Dike-ogu Chukwumerije took the stage next with a performance. It was part of a deal both of us had reached – either perform or sit on the high table. I have to think of better bargains in the future to get people do more… Well, Dike performed a short piece in his usual captivating style and though the audience sure looked like they would have expected more, he took a bow to get to his seat. I guess he didn’t want to steal the show or something. It was enough to raise the mood in the hall. At this point, some other writers had strolled in from their offices; Mrs. Chinyere Obi-Obasi (who tries to be there always for us writers once we are in her town), Gimba Kakanda, Salamatu Sule, Oye Ololade…
It was time to unveil the book. I must confess I was a little confused here… Unveiling a book, what does that entail? (I had always missed this part at book presentations, including my very own book launch. I think I had only come in after my book was unveiled and joined in the pictures! If only I had watched the video of the occasion – ouch! Well, no one was going to shame me). The dignitaries came down and all stood by while I asked the author and his mother, Mrs. Victoria Kukogho – yeah, she was there. Sorry, I didn’t mention earlier. They opened it and showed to the public. With that, I declared sales open at the cost of one thousand naira, though the smart business poet-author of the book had been long selling his book and had done off with a whole lot of copies before the event.
Mr. Eriata Oribhabor, the Lead Presenter made his presentation speaking on the dedication of the author and his being an inspiration to many including himself. He moved to go back to his seat but trust me na, I asked him to drop something. He smiled and apologised and properly presented the book with something. The rest of the high table did their bit from Mallam Haruna Haruspice publisher, DCP Ojukwu, Mrs. … , Kaniko on behalf of Denja Abdullahi and Fani-Kayode, and even the reviewer. I was touched when the reviewer made his own contribution. We got a seat at the front for the author and had him recite three poems. After the recitation, just for the fun of it, we did an auction of five copies of the book – the first to be autographed by the author and the main ones for the occasion. We had fun trying to get them to one person. The offers kept pouring in from the first Three Thousand Naira I staked. Of course, I wanted the books too so I had to put in my money at some point. Imagine the high table people oh! After contributing at different points and losing my bucks, they – Mr. Oribhabor – mainly, told me that I was the anchor and wasn’t meant to be part of the game. The rest of the group supported him. Indeed! I asked if my money could be given back to me. The resounding ‘No!’ could really have brought down the roof. Grrrrrr! Well, the auction went well on to ten minutes and was continuing. Everyone wanted that collection of five copies and the stake for it was tempting. Add a simple amount, maybe just a thousand or even a hundred naira and get the five books. There was the video and historic aspect. In addition, I had said I would make the author do a chicken dance for the winner of the books. Thirty thousand naira going… going… someone else there raising a hand up. Thirty-one thousand naira! Thirty-one thousand, forty naira. Thirty-one thousand four hundred and forty naira. Thirty… Thirty-three thousand naira… And on and on and on… I had to be begged by the author to close it in at Thirty-six. Well, if he was okay with the bucks, who was I? After all, he had been saying I stop since before Twenty. Hmmm. Kai… Oh well.
The next segment was an interview session with the author that I had anchored. This was meant to be my only part in the original plan before I became the impromptu anchor – fortunate that I do it as a hobby. Well, we did the interview and he answered well narrating how he was inspired to put the collection together emphasising that he was not inspired to write ‘the book’ but rather the poems within. Each poem had its story. He spoke mainly on ‘Beggar without a choice’, a poem he had written after a discussion we had had earlier in the year. The poem talks about that person staying on in an abusive relationship. That amazing beauty that man, nature and divinity admires who stoops to be a slave to someone unworthy. It turns out that a friend of his had read the poem on Facebook soon as it came out and confronted him. That friend was in a beer parlour (bar) and called the author to say that he was drinking to go and give his fiancée a proper beating. Turns out said fiancée had been caught by her man in bed with another. The poem had eventually given him a rethink. Talks by the author and the mother of the fiancé also put sense. Eventually, the marriage held. The power of words. Holding on to his first comments, I asked Samson if he was an advocate of divorce. He said he wasn’t but that in the event of someone being bashed with no hope of change, and in a situation where the children would be adversely affected either psychologically, physically, or any way, then the partner being hurt had to leave. In a relationship before marriage, there’s no bargain. The person being bashed should leave. I asked about his near overt rhyming [in his book] wondering if it didn’t distort meaning in some poems, the choice of sound over meaning. I personally think that in some poems, poets lose the beauty of what would have come in an insistence on rhyme. The author said it wasn’t all his poems that had that touch. Some were left without rhyme. He however put rhyme in a lot so as to appeal more to people’s appreciation of the art. He always strived to ensure that the rhymes weren’t cosmetic but on point which made his writing difficult sometimes as he had to find an apt replacement. He
The audience had their chance to talk and ask questions. There were compliments here and there. Someone asked the author if he wasn’t deterred by the ‘fact that Nigerians don’t read’. Dr. Emman Shehu, President of the Abuja Writers’ Forum took that guest on stating that Nigerians read and that largely we have a problem of book distribution in the country amongst other publishing inadequacies. About his mentors, the author mentioned people like Shakespeare, Hardy (for prose) among others. His leaning towards foreign writers doesn’t really take out the African component of his writing (I know this for sure). It was simply due to a childhood exposure to largely foreign literature. The reviewer, Prof Ibileye asked if some of the poems were autobiographical. What do you expect? Of course!
We had to leave so I called on Kukogho Elijah, the author’s uncle who gave the vote of thanks. I added something, I think, something about letting everybody know that the books were still available and would be in bookshops nationwide soonest. Support can be made to the author who can be reached very easily on Facebook. To get a feel of his poetry, you can Google his name, check on Naijastories, Facebook, Word Rhyme and Rhythm blog (which he curates) and so. You can spread word of the book or simply, send word to show you support his writing.
We all recited the National Pledge and soon after that, had Mama Author, Mrs. Kukogho say the closing prayer which was offered traditionally. To the sweet presentation, the goodwill of everyone present, the good health of those that would eventually read a long post on the launch and all… We could only answer traditionally too; Ise.
Thanks to Victoria Bamas, Dorcas Bitrus, Tonia Jessica Okefe, Sarah Opara, Opeyemi Kehinde, Moses Opara and the entire supporting team that made the event a success. To those behind the scenes and everyone who said a prayer, well done. May the future be kind and life, give you far more than you can ever hope for. To those of you who read, or who have supported this Kukogho, myself and us all writers here and everywhere; thank you. May the future be kind.
Find a full gallery of events here…
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